Mateo Kovacic has put himself on the market. The Real Madrid midfielder is after more game time and, given that he faces a tall order to see that wish fulfilled at the LaLiga giants, he has told Bernabéu chiefs that he wants to leave. With the player still firmly in Los Blancos' plans, however, the club are likely to prove no pushovers in negotiations over the sale of a footballer who has three years left on his contract and a release clause of 300 million euros.
Despite that obstacle, Kovacic is among Real's most sought-after players this transfer window. Indeed, his desire to move on works in the favour of his suitors, some of whom have already made contact with his camp over a potential summer switch. As many as five clubs are thought to have come calling so far: Roma, Inter Milan, Juventus, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Inter, Roma and Juve lead Italian interest in Kovacic
Kovacic has a sterling reputation in Serie A, having made a good impression during the two and a half seasons that he spent at Inter before departing for Madrid in summer 2015. The Croat's fine displays for the Nerazzurri enabled the Italians to bank what was then the third-highest transfer fee that they had ever received for an outgoing player (behind only the sales of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo Nazário to Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively).
Although Inter already have a deal in place to buy Radja Nainggolan from Roma, Kovacic's desire to leave has ignited their interest in re-signing a player who earlier this year refused to rule out a return to the club, declaring: "I loved Italy and Milan. You never know." However, Inter appear to be Kovacic's least likely destination, as he is understood to prefer a move to a side with a greater chance of winning plenty of major silverware.
And while he is also firmly in Roma's sights, it is Italian champions Juventus who have been eyeing the former Dinamo Zagreb man most persistently. Indeed, the Bianconeri are growing less and less discreet about the admiring glances they are casting in his direction. Most recently, Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri said: "I think Kovacic has a great future ahead of him. He has great qualities and is among the few players who can beat his marker with his first touch alone." Last summer, the Turin outfit sought to sign him, only to come up against then-Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane's refusal to countenance his sale.
But despite starting both legs of last August's Spanish Super Cup win over Barça and enjoying a more prominent first-team role in the opening stages of 2017/18, the 24-year-old slipped back down the pecking order after a two-and-a-half-month injury absence in the autumn, and finished the season as only the 16th-most used player in Zidane's squad. Juventus are out to take advantage of Kovacic's disillusionment over this state of affairs, and are believed to be his favoured destination.
Manchester United and Tottenham reportedly also keen
Meanwhile, reports in the UK say both United and Spurs are chasing the signature of a midfielder who is currently on World Cup duty with Croatia, and is not expected to make a decision on his future until the conclusion of his country's campaign in Russia. Real Madrid want him to stay, but have already begun seeking out possible replacements, with River Plate's Juan Fernando Quintero, who has caught the eye for Colombia at the World Cup, an apparent target.